Archive for august, 2016

Pipe Dream

mandag, august 29th, 2016

In which we speculate about software reuse, serverless architecture, and find out it is all a pipe dream in the end.

Let us begin in a different business: Plumbing. I can go to an online store and buy pipes and fittings, taps, heaters, and a lot of other stuff. Components can be bought for electricians and electronics in a similar fashion. That is, if I want, I can buy components and put them together as I see fit – luckily you have to be certified to do create installations in your home – at least in Denmark. Software on the other hand is almost always bought in complete installations.

While it did not make any sense to buy a host of single components in the old days, there is basically no obstacles to do so today. Amazon (and other *aaS vendors) sell by the second or even millisecond, which means you could make micropayments for micro – or even nano – services. It seems it should be possible to have a McIlroy (bash) pipe connection of components across the internet with differentiated payment schemes. Perhaps a Mac Automator for the web.

The step up from “basically no obstacles”

Communication – both the format and the pipes are obstacles. In plumbing, you cannot seamlessly fit a 1 inch to a 2 inch pipe, which is visibly different. If water runs through the system, then water runs through every part. In IT the common denominator is text. Sometimes this seems too simple, but it works quite well for bash programming.

The other element, the pipes or rather the network. Networks are slow compared to local disk access, yet n-distributed parallel execution is extremely fast, and with a forwarding address on the output, i.e. redirection of STDOUT in bash, the data would not have to return to the origin for every segment.

This then suggests that there should be a protocol along the lines:

setup: parameters, forward to, payment key
execute: stream of data

Having such a setup would allow you to actually define the schema of the data – if it conforms to a schema. This in turn would allow SQL like filtering, but that really depends upon the service.

Why would I want this?

Well, first off, real re-use. It seems silly that we’re re-inventing the wheel every time a new Rails/Django/Drupal/… is installed. It seems unnecessary that a non-programming customer should have to setup and maintain a webservice to do something which is already possible to do by using existing components possibly in a different way. Even if the customer does this, everyone else with the same ideas would have to do the same for themselves.

Naturally I want it because I’ve run into some missing functionality in one product, that I could construct myself or use from another vendor, but without the pipe and the linking it is not possible.

Whether it is a poor search functionality in a webshop, an e-mail filtering/handling service, or news feeds I’d like to filter – I have to do it myself, and I have to pull the information.

Why it is all a pipe dream after all

Spinning up the services can take a lot of time. Sending massive amounts of data across the web will congest an already congested infrastructure. Hoping for every service provider to provide a standardized service interface is in itself a pipe dream.

Pipe dream – a hope, wish, or dream that is impossible to achieve or not practical (Merriam-Webster)

Programming by the pound

søndag, august 21st, 2016

In which we try to figure out why some programs are worse off for the end users than they need to be.

We are likely to spot the root cause and less than pleasing hairdos if a hairdresser cut by the pound, that is, with no regards to style or aesthetics, but rahter focused on cutting a pound of hair off each customer.

We’d see: bowl cuts, bald, half-bald, … Speed and weight is of the essence.

The source code of some programs looks as if they have been created in a similar fashion. Just push code in without a sense of style or aesthetics. Copy and paste, ad hoc design from the beginning, Rube Goldberg like amendments.

Most people will not be able to see this, as they only have the user interface to interact with, if the software ever hits the market.

The programmer on the other hand will never learn any better. Basically he is doing a stellar job – the customers get served in a speedily manner, and there are no complaints. As mentioned above, the customers are less likely to spot the ugliness as they don’t see the code. The programmer rarely sees other peoples code, and likely cannot tell the difference between a good style and his own.

Sort of having a blind barber tell you: “Looks good to me.”

But if the end users are happy with the delivered product should we care at all? Well that depends, we’re all paying the price. The price for the software has to be earned somewhere. If the productivity of the end users doesn’t increase to cover the cost, then the choice to get the software in the first place was a bad idea. The cost of updates and additions goes up the more convoluted the source code is, because it will take longer to fit the new requirements into the existing code. Starting from scratch means losing the entire investment and betting on another system with a high probability of having the exact same issues. You may even lose the part of your data.

I’m not arguing that the hairdressers shop should be a cathedral, rather that it shouldn’t be a shanty building with wires and hoses dangling in dangerous positions.

Whenever you spot a user interacting with a user interface, and they become frustrated, odds are that the developers had more focus on programming by the pound getting things done than actually enabling their customers to get things done.